The Land of Milk and Honey part 2

With time approaching 10.20 am Sumitra has everything prepared.  A statue of the Buddha has been carefully transported from the country house to the Pelawatta house.  Before it was transported a new toothbrush had to be bought with which to clean and scrub the Buddha so it is pristine for the ceremony.  The statue sat in the front passenger seat of the car until we were ready to leave and was carefully cradled throughout the journey.

sumitra-preparesThe new clay pot, filled with coconut milk, ground and liquidised from coconuts grown at the country house, is set on top of a metal stand underneath which is a ceramic tile to protect the newly tiled kitchen floor.   The dried coconut palm leaves are folded to fit under the pot and set alight.  They are so dry that it is easy for them to catch fire.

clay-potWe wait, and wait and wait for the milk to boil over.  The new red clay pot becomes blackened in the flames and the fire is fed some more palm leaves.   Everyone, family, workmen and the newly arrived air conditioning installers from Singers, come to hover over the pot, almost willing it to bubble up and boil over.

It takes its own time and eventually does.

The boiling over of the milk represents a household which will always have plenty and never be short of anything.

mike-and-ru-step-into-new-homeCeremoniously the couple enter the house, she carrying the statue of the Buddha and a brass oil burner and he carrying a basket with food.

This is taken upstairs and set out neatly, the oil lit in the brass oil burner and the white flowers offered to the Buddha


Sumitra swings what seems like incense around the house in great clouds and then goes to each corner of the house to sprinkle drops of the cooled boiled milk.sumitra-blessingincense








Gate Late, the builder, presents the couple with buffalo curd and palm syrup.  Likewise Sumitra’s other daughter has sent similar gifts to bless the occasion as it is the custom to present milk products at these ceremonies.

Now the furniture comes in and some of the builder’s workmen help transport it to the different rooms and floors.

food-on-tableSumitra’s earlier cooking is laid out for all to share.  There’s the white rice and coconut which the locals ball into a perfect round with their finger tips.  There’s a bowl of some reddish mixture which I am warned not to touch as it will be too spicy for me and there are several sweet treats, of different flavours as well as biscuits and bananas, again the small four inch fat ones which taste delicious.  Fresh tea is made and cups and glasses are filled and shared and some choose only to drink water.

When the workmen on the upper floors are called down to share the feast they come down the curved staircase in single file and walk past the food into the downstairs cloakrooms where they wash and dry their hands before coming back into what will be the large sitting room, to eat.



The glass doors to this room are two four panelled floor to ceiling doors, which fold back completely.  The adjoining veranda is shaded by a large wooden canopy which gives shelter from the sun, and some privacy.

Here, in this multi populated island and especially in this area, space is expensive and at a premium and we are cheek by jowl beside other houses.  For all that it is very quiet although the son says he has soundproofed my bedroom in order to give the neighbours some peace as I am always singing around the house.

I wonder what on earth is going on now when I see the daughter-in-law start stabbing the red earth around the house with what looks like a metal pole – there is not much garden here and I can’t understand what she is doing digging up what is there.   It is explained that the Monk – and they have another name for a Monk who advises on the Most Auspicious times – has given them little bottles filled with precious oil and these must be buried around the grounds of the house to protect it and its residents from harm.

Eventually this morning’s early awakening takes it toll and we flop one by one on the large leather sofas brought over in the lorry.    Sumitra is especially tired as the whole ceremony and the earlier cooking has been laid on her shoulders.

But it has been a job well done as the fire lit, the milk boiled over, there was more than enough food to sate everyone’s appetite, even though there were more workmen present than expected, but there is more to come on this busy day before arrive back at the country house very late that same evening.






Whirlwind few days

There’s so much happening these days it is all a bit mad.  But that’s life in West Cork.  The first session of the Fiddle Fair was on Thursday in the Castle with the two Dermots – Dermot Mclaughlin and Dermot Byrne.  Great music and great venue, Dun na Séad Castle.  Many of their pieces of music reminded me of the tunes I listened to in my youth and they were originally from Scotland, or maybe they were originally Irish, went to Scotland and came back again – whatever there was a touch of nostalgia for me.  I didn’t know any of the names of the tunes but knew the tunes.

It was a gentle introduction of what was to come.

But Saturday dawned and suddenly my day was pulled apart.  There was a little girl who was receiving her First Holy Communion wearing her grandmother’s communion dress, worn by the grandmother 48 years ago.  A lovely story so notebook and camera gathered up, I headed to Ballydehob.

But firstly there were sheep to be seen to.  They were grazing in my friend’s garden but grass shorn so job completed, the farmer and another friend had been rounded up to move said sheep to new pastures.  A few circuits of the garden enabled the sheep to be directed into the waiting trailer and off they went bleating a sorry farewell.

Next to the Church where a mass of excited children, newly booted and suited, washed and scrubbed and gleaming were exiting the church into the sunshine, happily posing for photographs.  Images of this day will stay with them for the rest of their lives.  Mums and dads, grandmas, granddads, aunts, uncles, siblings all in the finery smiling into the lens.  Ellen posed happily for me with her mum and dad and grandma.   Darling little girl with the brightest smile and so like her grandma in the photograph of 48 years ago.

Then we headed to Schull to track down another friend, whose birthday it was.  Armed with a very special ice cream, flowering plant and a bag full of treats and gifts we eventually found her.  Spent a wonderful afternoon, sharing the ice cream eating shortbread biscuits, drinking tea and coffee and chatting and laughing in the sunshine overlooking the islands and the sea.   Decadent days, but birthday wishes exchanged and very happy we had shared the couple of hours with her.

Back to the Fiddle Fair for the Saturday night session.  The Foghorn Stringband with Nadine’s smile the warmest greeting you could wish for.  She is so lovely and she and Sammy, Caleb and Reeb are so welcome back to the Fiddle Fair.  Their Old Time music, is familiar to us all and really no one wanted them to leave the stage.

Next up were Daimh with special guest Eilidh Shaw.  This was a Scottish group, but one guy was from  Canada another from California although living in Scotland.  The voice of the girl Gaelic singer was as sweet and gentle as an angel and although I don’t have any Gaelic here too I knew the songs she sang from my childhood.   They played their hearts out and for some it was their first visit to Ireland and I do hope they come back again.

Jeremy Irons was in the audience on the Saturday night and it was standing room only as the marquee held a capacity crowd and lots of people were just too late to get tickets.

I got in around 1 am and spent Sunday doing the write up for Jessie Kennedy’s new cd, the story of Ellen and the communion dress and generally catching up.

Today was the icing on the cake with a session in the Riverside Cafe in Skibbereen.  The Foghorn Stringband played a couple of sessions and they are a joy to listen to and to watch.   The lads from Cape Breton, Troy MacGillivray, Shane Cook and Jake Charron played too – making sweet magic with their fiddles and guitar.  Others joined in but what a wonderful way to spend a Monday afternoon or indeed any afternoon.   I met a friend for lunch at the Riverside and to join in the Fiddle Fair post mortem session so we ended up spending the whole afternoon there.  Had to move my car in case the traffic warden was about.  In fact I should have moved the car twice, but Brendan McCarthy senior was dancing with Nadine and we were all singing again when The Foghorn Stringband set up for the second time.  So it was 6 pm before the lunchtime session finished.

I said to Sammy and Reeb and Nadine that we do this all the time in West Cork – and we mostly do.   A mad mad world and here’s to the next time.

The Sound of Music

It’s the fiftieth anniversary of film of the The Sound of Music but I saw the stage version in London when I was a teenager- over fifty years ago.

A girlfriend and I had made the journey from Edinburgh to London aboard the Starlight Special. This was by overnight train, leaving Waverley late in the evening and arriving in London around 6 am the following morning. The attraction was the ticket price – five pounds sterling.

The £5 entitled us to a seat and a journey.  We settled in a compartment where we were joined by a husband and wife who were making the same journey.

There were lots of lads aboard the train and we headed off to the buffet car, ‘for refreshments’ but really to eye up the talent.  The drinks were flowing, there was a good natured fun crowd and the stewards joined in the laughter and fun.   We headed back to our compartment at one point, but the husband and wife had stretched out full length on each side of the compartment taking up all the seats.  With nowhere to sit we retraced our steps and joined in the party which was in full swing.

Around 3 am the revellers started to quieten down and we stayed on in the buffet car playing cards with a group of lads who had no intention of closing their eyes all night.  We’d never played cards for real money before, but beginners’ luck was with us, either that or our competitors had really had far too much to drink.  We arrived in London having doubled the spending money we had for the week!

We were staying with a television personality of the time, the days of live television.  She got tickets for us for the Sound of Music stage show which would later become one of the most enduring favourite films of all time.

She had arranged for us to go backstage after the performance and meet the stars of the show.  But firstly she told us not to tell anyone we had watched the show from the gods!

We duly went backstage. It was exciting and thrilling and another world, although the dressing rooms were smaller than we expected.   After all the colour and atmosphere on stage during the performance, somehow backstage was duller, a bit jaded and didn’t live up to expectations.   I knew there was something different about the man who was the leading character’s dresser, but didn’t understand what was different or why.   It was to be quite a few years later before the penny dropped.

Fast forward eight years or so and I had a little boy called Raymond.  I used to sing him the song Do Ray Me from the Sound of Music and call him my little ray of sunshine.  In retrospect I don’t know why as he whinged and cried through the first two years of his life.    It was so constant friends gave up asking what was wrong with him.

He was happiest when he was taking things apart.  If he was silent you understood it was a clock or a watch which was being dismantled.    It got so that when he entered the house of anyone who knew him everything that was musical or mechanical or could be wound up was hastily put out of his reach.

He didn’t sleep as a toddler but was content in his cot as long as he had his Fisher Price wind up musical toy with him.   We would awaken in the early hours to the noise of the crank crank crank as his little fingers wound up the movement and drift off to sleep again to the gentle sounds of Little Boy Blue….

He wore the teeth of the movement completely out and the toy was eventually discarded.

He was my third child and as he got older would ask me, ‘Why didn’t you have me first?’  He had a reading age of 13 at 6 years old, so determined was he to be on the same reading books as his older brothers.  He always wanted to run or cycle faster than anyone else and one time flew over the handlebars of his bicycle. I was on top of a ladder removing a brick fireplace at ceiling height when he came in the house screaming.  His hand was covering his eye and blood pumped freely through his fingers.  I thought he had lost his eye, but thankfully his eye was intact.  He had a nasty cut on his forehead above his eye and a scar which he carries to this day.

He was two weeks’ late making his entrance into this life. I believe he has been trying to make up for those two weeks ever since.   He arrived without warning and within five minutes of deciding it was time to make an appearance.

(We had friends staying that weekend with us, friends who were childless and who would remain so throughout their lives.  They adored being in our home that eventful day in May.)

Many years later we went to Austria with Ray, one of his brothers and some others.   We walked through the tunnelled avenue, and saw many of the scenes where The Sound of Music had been filmed.

I remember being on a coach going into Salzburg and this is where I learned I was no longer the mummy who had to take care of things for the little boys.  The tour guide asked for either passports or some information and I opened my mouth to answer and deal with whatever was necessary.  But the little boy – in my eyes anyway – dealt politely and calmly with what needed to be done.  He was after all 27.   I relaxed back into the coach seat, having learned that a part of my job was done.

The little boy now has boys of his own who have appeared on stage in theatre and musicals, film and television but not as far as I know in The Sound of Music, at least not yet.




Wonderful Life

Today I had a message on facebook from a young musician in Chile. We are mutual fans of Colin Vearncombe (aka Black), whose velvet voice casts a spell over me and many more.  Colin writes his own wonderful music and meaningful words, with many successes including the multi million record selling ‘Wonderful Life’.

Privileged to live in West Cork, I am fortunate enough to be able to join the Black fans at the intimate concerts held in Grove House, Schull.  Colin lives near Schull these days.   He’s a nice guy too.

Francisco José Sylva is all of 22 and is just about to release an EP.  He kindly sent me a link to his work and I listened through icloud, to three of his songs this morning, which I assume will be on his EP.  I particularly like Transcend, the music and the words.

It’s a wonderful life isn’t it when I can listen to music composed on the other side of the world in the rural isolation of West Cork.

Hard to think that my interest in music began with the one and only record we had – a single by the Everly Brothers, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ which was played consistently whilst my mother was at work.  After school, I’d open the windows, carefully lower the needle on to the disc in the portable box radiogram, and play the record consistently at full volume. Our neighbours in the flat above were not amused yet were word perfect within 24 hours!